Carl flushed the toilet and turned to the sink. He was not in the habit of brushing his teeth in the morning, but today there was a terrible taste in his mouth that he was not willing to live with long enough to get a glass of juice. It was, in fact, a bad enough taste that a glass of juice might not do the trick.
He had hardly begun when he noticed Tina standing at the door of the bathroom, leaning her right shoulder against the door frame on the hall side. She was frowning at him, and he could not think why. They had both been in good humour when they went to bed.
“Goob mormim,” he said around his tooth brush.
“Do you remember that thing I showed you on Twitter last night?” No smile. This was not the way Tina was in the morning.
“That weird folklore thing.” She straightened a little, the motion taking her into the relative darkness of the pre-dawn hall. “About mice.”
Carl remembered the tweet, and the laugh they’d had over it:
If you see a mouse issue forth from the mouth of your lover whilst he or she sleeps, don’t chase it away. It is the soul of your beloved and needs to find its way back.
He stopped brushing for a moment, wondering what had prompted Tina to ask the question. Then he started scouring the inside of his mouth without any pattern, anxious to feel the bristles in every cranny, the connection between the tweet and his sensations this morning coming suddenly clear.
“Yeah.” Tina’s voice was still flat. “I almost shouted when I saw it come out, but I didn’t.”
Carl made a strangled sobbing noise. He began to spit, reaching blindly for the mouthwash. Yellow Death, their joke for the flavour; Carl longed to feel its destructive burning. He dropped the toothbrush on the floor. He was not going to use it again.
“I was really quiet, because I didn’t want to scare it away. But you know what?”
Carl swirled the mouthwash from cheek to cheek. He kept his eyes off the foam in the sink, not wanting to see anything that might have been sitting in his mouth since… what time had it been, when the mouse had crawled out? How long had it been in his mouth?
“I waited all night, just watching.” Carl glanced over at her, noticing now the dark circles under her unsympathetic eyes.
“Never saw it go back in,” she said. She paused, as if to give him a chance to respond. He just spat into the sink, the medicinal sear of the mouthwash passing the edge of toleration.
“So what I want to know,” she said, taking a step to the side, revealing her right arm, her right hand, the long shining carving knife she held, “is just what the hell you are, anyway.”
Eyes drawn to the knife, Carl saw movement behind it. On the far side of the hall, a mouse trundled past, pressed against the baseboard. It was headed toward the bedroom.
Tina and Carl leapt at the same moment, screaming in two different keys of desperation. The mouse fled the sudden commotion.